Harvest 2018: New Zealand

2018 was a challenging vintage for New Zealand, with an unusually-warm growing season coupled with cyclones, and high rainfall in regions such as Marlborough.

Despite the challenges, our producers are positive about the quality of their grapes.

“2018 will be remembered by many wineries as a year for the record books,” says Bibendum buyer for New Zealand Matt Smith. “It was the hottest New Zealand summer on record. Many regions had to deal with heat, significant humidity, and lack of wind leading to high disease pressure.

“The North Island experienced less extreme weather than the South, with a relatively-warm growing season and slightly above average rainfall. Most producers in Martinborough had picked before the heavy rains came in April. Hawkes Bay faired even better with an early vintage producing wines of good concentration, ripeness and power.

“The South Island saw more extreme weather, with Marlborough experiencing the hottest January in 60 years followed by the wettest February on record. Expectations were high following a near-perfect flowering, but two tropical cyclones brought increased risk of Botrytis and delayed harvest until mid-March.

“Just as in the rest of the country, Central Otago had one of the warmest seasons on record. The warm and dry weather meant an unusual amount of early-season growth. But a month or two before harvest, the weather went from record highs to a sudden cooling, including snow on the low hills surrounding some vineyards.

“It is still early days but what I have tasted has been generally impressive despite the challenging conditions. Clearly the sorting table has had to be used extensively, and the yields achieved for 2018 reflect this.”

Above: wine being transferred into French oak barrels for fermentation and maturation at Huia vineyards.

Huia, Marlborough

“The Huia vineyards' grapes responded well despite the unusual weather and were picked at good ripeness and flavour levels,” says winemaker Claire Allan. “Across all varieties, cropping levels were naturally low, with less bunches and lower bunch weights."

“We have 60% of our Sauvignon Blanc blend in neutral French oak, for a mixture of fermentation and maturation of five to six months. The Pinot Noir has been pressed off the skins and will now be in barrel for 12 months. The Chardonnay is also in barrel and has been for most of its fermentation – it will stay here for 12 months before being racked.

“The aromatics are all ticking along through the last of their grape sugar and our 340 litres of dessert Riesling is fizzing sweetly in the puncheon. All in all, 2018 was a lovely vintage for Huia!”

Spy Valley, Marlborough

“For our blocks with free-draining soil in the Waihopai we were seeing excellent acid retention despite warm conditions, and high berry nutrient and flavour levels - particularly in the Sauvignon Blanc,” says chief winemaker Paul Bourgeois. “Intermittent and at times heavy rain followed through the harvest period, making for a very quick harvest indeed.

“Overall I’m very happy with our Sauvignon Blanc, which is showing great flavours, leaning towards tropical fruit, and good palate weight. Our Pinot Noir is showing great colour and is very expressive of the different vineyard blocks. Likewise, the rosé is expressive and the fruit very nicely balanced from the free-draining rosé blocks.

“Chardonnay is showing nice balance with flavours in the riper spectrum. Riesling was very selectively picked, with two parcels of very clean fruit and three late-harvest vineyard parcels providing some absolutely delicious fruit.

“Our Pinot Gris is looking typically concentrated and showing great palate weight and texture, but Gewurztraminer is the 2018 star. The flavours are excellent, and acids tighter than usual. A significant portion of late-harvest Gewurztraminer fruit is showing huge promise with super ripe, spicy flavours and very generous palate weight.”

Above: harvest at Millton

Millton, Gisborne

Cold rain at end of November affected the flowering of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Gewurztraminer vines at Millton. This was followed by warm summer temperatures, but cooling sea breezes. “Powdery mildew is becoming a problem throughout the land, especially at Christmas,” says winemaker James Millton, “but we stuck to our fortnightly (new moon / full moon) rhythm using only sulphur, seaweed and bentonite and had clean fruit in 2018 – no powdery mildew or Botrytis!

“Having escaped two cyclones and most of the rain that drove down the centre of the country, harvest began with grapes not showing high sugar ripeness (potential ABVs of 12%) but berries with amazing skin retention, strength and good seed separation from the pulp. So we had wonderful phenolic ripeness.”

"January and February were spent putting out bird netting, as one huge issue this year was wildlife eating the berries in the vineyard. Birds and bees damaged up to 60% of the crop – particularly targeting Chenin Blanc, resulting in costly and labour-intensive hand sorting."

“The highlights of 2018 must be the strength of the Chardonnay, ripe tropical fragrance of the Viognier, and lifted tingle of the Chenin selections. The aromatic varieties are now quite pronounced and we wish for really full, dense reds wines of style and complexity.”

See an overview of the Southern Hemisphere harvest in our 2018 report

Jess cut her teeth in the drinks industry throwing muddlers around behind the bar at Be At One. After a brief stint as an education journalist she found her way back to booze in the rather more sophisticated arena of wine, and was shown the ropes by the very best wine educators at Bibendum.

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